by Chris Curran, PwC Diamond Advisory Services

CIOs: 5 Issues to Win Your CEO’s Attention

Mar 07, 2011
CIOIT Strategy

Some CIOs complain that IT department performance and project status dominate discussions with the CEO. If you want to change the conversation to IT's role in innovation and strategy, consider these five issues, advises Chris Curran.

Most CIOs I know have their hearts and minds in the right place. They recognize that they need to be accountable for more than a well-run IT shop. They also aspire to help the company use information to drive innovation and strategic advantage that fulfills the CEO’s vision. Here are five issues that CIOs can discuss to capture the CEO’s attention and raise the level of discourse to a more strategic level.

1. Imagine if everything was mobile. If every key function and interaction across the company’s value chain was able to operate anytime, anywhere, what would be the impact on your customers and your business? What if your competitors got there first? Companies today have unprecedented opportunities to capture a greater share of customers’ wallets: wire transfers, account maintenance, proximity payments, subscriptions, digital content, and location-specific advertising are just a few of the opportunities. Inventory management, logistics, risk management and even talent management may have mobile potential. Take some time to look across your business for opportunities to add mobility to your operations and assess the potential impact. Then help your CEO imagine the possibilities.

2. Let’s take enterprise IT funding off the table. The battles about which departments will contribute budget to help fund enterprise or multi-business unit IT functions have killed many worthwhile innovative IT initiatives. Time, trust and goodwill invested by all parties in the upfront planning for strategic initiatives is squandered on debates about who will pay for them. That’s understandable, particularly when cross-function investments run counter to departmental performance metrics. Propose creating a separate funding source for those IT initiatives that cross organizational lines.

3. Mobilization will be the difference between success and failure. Our Digital IQ research consistently finds that the firms with the strongest financial performance not only had strong alignment among the business and IT leadership, but also had strong mobilization capabilities. That means anticipating the change implications for different business functions, securing buy-in at the top and ongoing change management leadership. It requires fully understanding the details of the strategy and having a clear roadmap for designing and executing that strategy. We find that the CIOs who help create innovation, increase revenue, and help deliver superior customer service have more influence within their company; they have the authority to mobilize. Have a conversation with the CEO about earning his or her full support in mobilizing the resources, support and processes required to undertake a strategic initiative—well before the spending starts.

4. You should expect “ambidextrous innovation” from IT. Eighty percent of CEOs believe innovation will yield efficiencies and lead to competitive advantage, according to PwC’s 14th annual Global CEO Survey. Technology is an important way of capturing both. Yet when it comes to conversations with the CEO, often they don’t explicitly acknowledge that they expect the CIO to contribute to both sides of the equation. In fact, according to our most recent Digital IQ study, only 25 percent of CIOs said their primary role in business innovation was focused on priorities such as creating new products and services, reaching new customers and improving customer service. Listen carefully to the CEO’s expectations from the IT department in terms of support for innovation. Reset expectations about IT capabilities so that they are aligned with the CEO’s priorities.

5. Technology is a barrier to your strategy. Unfortunately, technology and its application can create barriers that stop a company from reaching its goals. Things as simple as outdated e-mail and social media policies can hamper the way the company communicates with its customers and employees. Too much process, inflexible governance, rogue IT initiatives, maintenance of out-of-date applications and the like can take IT resources off-course. Don’t wait for the CEO to tell you how IT is hampering your company’s performance. Listen carefully to other business leaders. Get out in the market and see for yourself. Dig into the analytics about IT performance. Then, armed with the facts, initiate the conversation with the CEO about your ideas for removing the barriers.

Every CIO/CEO relationship is different; every company has its own priorities. But for the CIO who aspires to contribute even more to the success of the organization, to create greater opportunities for the rest of the IT team, and ultimately fulfill the CEO’s strategic agenda, conversations about these issues can be a good place to start.

Chris Curran is a PwC principal and leader of technology strategy and innovation for PwCs Diamond Advisory Services. Find more from Chris on his blog: or on Twitter @PwC_LLP

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